By Claire Lardizabal
FLORENCE, Italy – Getting to the food stories I would write in Florence meant I had to make it there on the Rome-Firenza train after my international flight. Mostly, the only time trains are used in Missouri are to get to Chicago so venturing from Florence to Rome by train was a new concept for me. Now, equipped with the right information, it seems much easier.
Here are five tips for your first Italian train:
Travel Do’s and Don’ts
TrenItalia is Italy’s train system. The website (www.trenitalia.com) displays in Italian but can be translated to English by clicking on the upper right-hand button that says Italiano, then clicking English. The website offers a plethora of services, such as booking train tickets in advance, how to access the train through the airport, and customer assistance for more information.
Tip 1. Follow signs. When arriving at Rome Fiucimino airport, follow the signs for train information. A kiosk with an attendant helped me with my purchase and timing of the trains I had to take.
The trip required two tickets because there is no direct train to Florence from Rome’s Fiucimino airport. The tickets in total cost 51 euros and took two-and-a-half hours. The first ticket cost 8 euros and took me to downtown Rome, where I could connect on another train straight to the Florence Santa Maria Novella station. The second train I took was the Frecciargento, one of TrenItalia’s three high-speed trains. The Frecce trains can reach speeds of over 200 kilometers an hour, cutting travel time in half. I chose a second-class Frecce ticket, which gave me an assigned seat, for 43 euros.
Tip 2. Get your ticket validated before entering the train. On board, a train attendant will come by checking for validations. If the train ticket is not validated upon checking in, you can be fined 50 euros on the spot. Validation ports can be found at the entrance of train platforms. To validate, slide the ticket in and to the left. It is validated once there is a little hole-punch on it.
Tip 3. Keep all identification and documents close to you. Pickpockets are rampant in train stations. Always carry purses zipper-side forward, with hand over the zipper. I knew that when I took the Frecce train, large suitcases are left at the front of the train carriage, so I purchased a lock for my belongings.
Fortunately, an Australian woman sat next to me on the first train and shared her own tips.
• if anyone asks to see your passport outside of passport control at an airport, flip open to the page with identification to show it to them without letting go of the passport
• Keep license, credit/debit cards and cash close to the body.
• Keep passport away from those items also inside your clothes.
• Take some cash and hide in various places.
Tip 4. Pay attention to the ticket. My first ticket did not have a designated seat or stop on it so I didn’t know where to get off. It only said “Rome Metropolitan Area.” My second ticket, however, said I would be leaving from Roma Tiburtina to Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence. Roma Tiburtina was my stop.
When I arrived at the Roma Tiburtina train station, I looked for my train number and the platform on an arrival/departure screen. Do not pay attention to the destination on the screen, look at the train number. For instance, the Frecciargento stops at Florence on the way to Venice. Venice was what was on the screen.
The Frecciargento ticket also has the assigned carriage and seat number on it, so when the train pulls up to the platform, look for the carriage. I went into Carriage 4 instead of Carriage 6 because I was afraid the train was going to shut its doors and leave me, so I figured walking to my seat would be better. I was wrong. Which leads me into my next tip.
Tip 5. TRAVEL LIGHTLY. I knew I was going to be gone for a month so I brought a decent sized suitcase. Walking to the next carriage was a nightmare. The aisles were so small, I could barely pass through them, let alone lugging a backpack and suitcase. Passengers are supposed to leave their suitcases in the designated suitcase area at the front of the carriage but some inconveniently left them in the aisles. If I had a smaller luggage, I could have probably made it to my carriage with ease.
Use space-savers and roll clothes up to create more space. Pinterest (pinterest.com) offers a great collection of clothes to take when studying abroad or heading to a new place. Bring layers, comfy shoes and make sure the item can go with two or more outfits.
Taking the train was truly an eye-opening experience. The best part about traveling is the relief of arriving and finally seeing the beautiful sights of Florence, making all those travel hassles worth the journey.